By Andrew Warshaw
July 30 – Despite persistently brushing aside any semblance of wrongdoing for weeks on end, criminal proceedings were dramatically launched against FIFA president Gianni Infantino today by a Swiss special prosecutor over undocumented dealings with the country’s former attorney general Michael Lauber who resigned last week.
Appointed only last month to review complaints against both men, special prosecutor Stefan Keller found “indications of criminal conduct” related to their meetings according to the watchdog body overseeing the Attorney General’s Office.
“This concerns abuse of public office, breach of official secrecy, assisting offenders and incitement to these acts,” the AB-BA watchdog overseeing the OAG said in a statement.
Keller, it said, will “examine the criminal complaints transmitted to the OAG by the presidents of the Federal Council”.
The complaints involve Lauber and Infantino “as well as other people”, the OAG’s statement said.
One of those other people is local prosecutor Rinaldo Arnold, a personal friend of Infantino who comes from the same region of Switzerland and has long been cited as the facilitator of at least one of the meetings between Lauber and Infantino.
Suspects in such cases are presumed innocent in Switzerland until legal proceedings are completed but FIFA’s Ethics committee will be under growing pressure to suspend Infantino, temporarily at least, during the period of any investigation.
Lauber resigned last Friday as of the end of August only minutes before a federal court upheld allegations that, while his office was investigating FIFA-related corruption, he had lied about a meeting he had with Infantino.
The internal disciplinary case against Lauber focused on a meeting he had with Infantino in June 2017 at a Bern hotel. Both men later said they could not recall their discussion at what was their third meeting in 15 months.
Until a couple of weeks ago, Infantino had hidden behind a series of FIFA statements issued on his behalf including one which slammed accusations against him as being “a farce”.
But such were the mounting suspicions in the Swiss and German media over what lay behind his dealings with Lauber – who back in March was sanctioned for disloyalty, lying and breaching his office’s code of conduct – that an exasperated Infantino broke his silence by insisting it was “absurd” to suggest he had done anything wrong.
One suggestion was that he had tried to influence the Swiss judicial process by allegedly attempting to find out whether he had been the target of any corruption probe at the time he was preparing to launch his campaign to take over FIFA from Sepp Blatter.
But Infantino insisted he was simply following standard procedure.
“For a long time I have not spoken about this because the whole thing is absurd,” Infantino told a virtual press conference. “Let me clarify once and for all, to meet the chief prosecutor of Switzerland is perfectly legitimate and perfectly legal. It’s no violation of anything.
“On the contrary, it’s also part of the fiduciary duties of the president of FIFA. What bothers me a bit is the wording about secret meetings. There is nothing secret in meeting a prosecutor in a civilised country.”
The Swiss authorities may take a somewhat different view of the undocumented meetings which are in danger of seriously undermining Infantino’s credibility and could be even worse for him if it can be proved there was a cover-up.
In a statement, Infantino stuck to the line of Fifa “remaining at the disposal of the Swiss authorities and will, as we have always done, cooperate fully with this investigation.”
But he also drew a sharp distinction between the bad old days of corruption and where the organisation is now.
“People remember well where FIFA was as an institution back in 2015, and how substantial judicial intervention was actually required to help restore the credibility of the organisation,” he said.
“As President of FIFA, it has been my aim from day one, and it remains my aim, to assist the authorities with investigating past wrongdoings at FIFA. FIFA officials have met with prosecutors in other jurisdictions across the world for exactly these purposes. People have been convicted and sentenced, thanks to FIFA’s cooperation, and especially in the United States of America, where our cooperation has resulted in over 40 criminal convictions. Therefore, I remain fully supportive of the judicial process, and FIFA remains willing to fully cooperate with the Swiss authorities for these purposes.”
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